Continuing to heal after cancer

For more than 12 million U.S. cancer survivors, accepting a ‘new normal’ is easier said than done. Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing health editor of, recently sat down with cancer survivor Dr. Julie Silver, who started a national rehabilitation program to help patients heal – even after treatments end.

Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38, Silver underwent surgery and chemotherapy. When she was discharged from treatment, she was troubled to find out there was no follow-up care plan.

“If someone had a stroke, you would never say, ‘Go home and figure it out on your own. Accept your new normal,’” Silver said. “They would be sent to a rehabilitation doctor; they would receive physical therapy, speech, language pathology. There is a lot of medical treatment that they would be offered to help them heal.”

She was still suffering from post-treatment symptoms that left her too fatigued to care for her three children. Being a physiatrist, Silver decided to start a program for cancer patients like her called the STAR Program through Oncology Rehab Partners. STAR Program certification provides facilities and clinicians with the tools, education and training to deliver cancer rehab services to survivors.

“The goal really is to get them as physically and emotionally strong as possible,” she said. “The rehabilitation is during and after treatment. Some cancer patients are never off treatment, so during and after.”

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Silver stressed that rehabilitation isn’t just about exercise.

“Exercise is not a synonym for rehab – it’s part of it.  It’s a tool in the rehab toolkit,” she said.

Services for cancer patients help them regain physical strength, but sometimes more importantly, improve the mental health aspect of cancer in order to deal with the traumatic event.

“The number one reason for distress is disability,” Silver said, “and they go hand in hand. The more you help someone physically, the better they do emotionally.”

Health insurance covers the STAR program and Silver hopes in the future, more and more cancer institutes will adopt the program.  She maintained that not enough patients are getting post-cancer care.

“Research shows between 65 and 90 percent of cancer survivors should be recommended for cancer rehab and most aren’t,” she said.

For more information on cancer rehabilitation, visit